No quick fix for Nairobi airport

2013-08-07 23:05
(Sayyid Azim, AP)

(Sayyid Azim, AP)

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Nairobi - The international terminals at Nairobi's main airport were reduced to a charred shell on Wednesday with wreckage hanging down from a caved in roof and water dripping down blackened walls.

In international arrivals an information kiosk that once welcomed the thousands of tourists who arrive in Kenya daily is now a barely recognisable blackened shell.

Firemen, struggling to put out the blaze that raged for four hours and sent plumes of acrid smoke high into the sky, splash through pools of black sludge - water from their hose pipes mixed with a thick layer of soot.

Chunks of silver-coloured ventilation pipes litter the floor.

Officials scurry around updating the press, adamant they will resume services swiftly. Cargo flights and domestic services had both resumed by late afternoon.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who called the fire a "tragic event", vowed to resume services as soon as possible, saying the domestic terminal would handle international flights.

But when he visited the still smouldering arrivals hall, even as firefighters still poured water on the hissing embers, for several minutes he simply stared in horror, trying to take in the scale of fire and the damage it had done.

Usually some 16 000 passengers transit through here daily, including both domestic and international flights, with Nairobi the most important transit hub for east Africa.

"The whole airport is in a mess," said Sylvia Amondi, who was at the airport to pick up a relative who had been due to arrive.

"The restaurants and other shops at the arrivals have all been razed to the ground."

Huge delays for weeks

Behind the scenes portly civil servants braved massive puddles to sift through soggy papers and files in what was left of their offices.

In the baggage claim area only a giant advert for multi-choice TV remained untouched.

The airport's small domestic terminal is usually itself crowded, and while Nairobi has another domestic airport, even in the best case scenario, international flights in Nairobi will probably see huge delays for weeks to come, if indeed not longer.

Officials from the presidency said their next update on the situation would be around midday on Thursday.

Firemen, policemen and soldiers all joined together to stem the blaze, dragging the heavy water pipes up ladders to pour onto the fire.

At one point, with water from the first fire trucks used up and emergency water tankers held up in rush hour traffic, some took up buckets to fling water onto the raging blaze.

Clouds of black smoke could be seen for kilometres around.

Luggage trollies lined together appeared fused into a block by the intensity of the blaze, which is reported to have begun in the immigration area of the arrivals hall shortly before dawn, before spreading swiftly to engulf the building.

Outside, shocked passengers waited for information, unsure when they will be able to travel, with immigration officers setting up temporary bases to process those passengers who arrived, while foreign embassies sent staff to help.

Others, diverted to Kenya's port city of Mombasa, or Tanzania's northern town of Arusha, faced bus journeys of several hours to reach Nairobi.

Read more on:    uhuru kenyatta  |  kenya  |  kenya airport fire  |  east africa  |  air travel

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